Bender (The Core Four #1)


by Stacy Borel

Prologue

I WAS LOOKING TO MAKE A CHANGE. To get out of the rut I’d been living in. What I found was an ad that sparked my curiosity.

Sounded normal enough, didn’t it? Not misleading, not out of the norm. Just a regular ad. Except it was misleading, and what I got was so not normal. In fact, I had no idea what I was getting myself in to….

Chapter One

“KEEGAN, I AM GOING TO NEED YOU to pick up your sister today from ballet practice. My boss called, and they want me to work an extra hour this afternoon,” my mom called from inside the kitchen.

“Mom, I can’t. I have a study group that is meeting right after my A&P class, and I can’t skip this one. Can’t you ask Uncle Murphy to get her?” I didn’t mean to sound whiny, but honestly, I’ve had to miss out on the extra help, because my mom’s job always seemed to need an extra hour.

She poked her head around the corner, her wild head of dark brown curls twisting every which way. “Seriously Keegan, I need you to do this for me. Your uncle has a life outside of us, and you know I can’t tell my work no. We need the money, and I need this job.”

Always the same guilt trip, just laced with different words. Rowan Phillips, my mother, has been a single parent since forever. My dad, aka-the sperm donor, left her when they accidentally got pregnant with me. When she told him, he ended up leaving town, and she never heard from him again. My mom had to drop out of school when her parents refused to help her. So as soon as she gave birth to me, she got a job. Growing up, it was always just my mom and me. It was an ‘us against the world’ sort of thing. But then one day when I was twelve, she sat me down and told me that she was pregnant. I remember that the words didn’t make sense. I had a barrage of questions swirling around in my head, but only one that kept sticking out. How could she be pregnant again when she wasn’t married? In fact, screw married, she wasn’t even dating anybody! She explained to me that she’d been seeing a guy, mostly lunches here and there. Apparently my mother wasn’t aware that there were methods to prevent getting knocked up. Now here we were, eight years later, and my little sister was bounding down the steps in purple leggings, a blue long sleeved top, and a yellow bow that bunched all of her hair, identical to my mom’s wild mane, on the top of her head. She had my mother’s eccentric tastes. I was surprised that she didn’t get teased more at school.

I crinkled my nose at her outfit and sighed heavily. “Fine. But I can’t miss another study session, okay? I’m already barely pulling a C in that class, and if I have any chance of getting accepted into nursing school, I really need to make sure I get some help. This has to be the last time.”

She gave me her usual grin that let me know when she’d gotten her way. “Thanks kiddo.”

“Sarah, you need to sit down and eat some breakfast.” I poked her in the ribs as she passed by me, causing her to squeal. “With all of that dancing, I need to fatten you up.”

I loved my little sister dearly. Hell, because my mom worked so much, I was practically raising her. She’d been a blessing in disguise that I’d never take back. I might get aggravated at our situation, or the fact that I had to take time away from something that was really important to me—school—but I never blamed her for it. And as much as I’d like to be mad at my mom for our lot in life, I just couldn’t. I loved our little family.

“Do boys like skinny girls?” Sarah’s question took me by surprise.

Raising my brow at her when we both sat down at the small kitchen table I asked, “What do you care if boys like you?”

She took a big bite of some oatmeal my mom had placed in front of her. “Well, some of the girls in my class said that boys don’t like fat girls, and they only like the skinny ones. So why would you want me to be a fat girl? I want a boyfriend someday you know?”

I looked up at my mom who had her back to me. She was clearly laughing, because her shoulders were moving up and down. “Sarah, listen to me. Boys like girls of all shapes and sizes. If they all liked the same kind of girl, this world would be a boring place, and everybody would try to look exactly the same. And what I said was only a figure of speech. I don’t really want to fatten you up, I was just saying you need to keep eating because you’re so tiny.” Why did I feel like I was digging an even deeper hole that held more questions?

My little sister sat there for a few moments, pondering over what I’d just said. It was amazing how the logic of a second grader worked, and you could actually see the wheels turning in her head. I was literally waiting for questions to be thrown at me. All of which involved the usual suspects: who, what, when, where, why, and how come.

“So do boys like girls to be tiny?”

My head hung down, and I let out a frustrated breath. “Mom, you can jump in any time now.”

She chuckled as she placed the last dish in the dishwasher. “Now why would I do that? You seem to be handling yourself just fine.”

Shoveling a few large spoonsful of my own oatmeal into my mouth, I stood up and dumped my bowl in the sink. “Sorry, but I don’t have time for this right now. I’m going to be late for class.” My mom could field the questions. As I walked out of the kitchen, Mom hollered at me not to forget about Sarah this afternoon. “I won’t,” I shouted back in annoyance.

Walking down the hall, I went into my bedroom to get dressed. I had class in thirty minutes. I wanted to take a shower, but I didn’t have time too. Looking in my mirror, I sighed, threw my long blond hair up in a messy bun, and put on a white tank top with skinny jeans. The outfit would probably look cuter with boots, but I slipped on my flip flops instead. Grabbing my satchel, I headed out the door.

I pulled into the student parking lot with five minutes to spare, and thankfully I found a spot around the corner from the science building. I loved this campus, but the University of Georgia was huge, and finding parking wasn’t always a picnic. Today was apparently my lucky day. Getting out of my car, I all but sprinted to my class. My teacher, Dr. Christensen, was a tough cookie, and if you were late, she made no exceptions. One minute past starting time, she locked the doors, and you couldn’t come in. One missed day of Anatomy and Physiology and you were screwed! I’ve never been late, not once, and thankfully I made it just in time. As I passed by her when I walked through the door, she said, “Cutting it close Keegan.”

“Yes ma’am. I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.” I kept my head down, scurried to my seat, and class began as usual. We went into great detail about the cardiovascular system and how the blood pumps through the heart. By the time I walked out, my head was spinning, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to keep the valves, atrium, and ventricles straight. This was why I needed my study group. Frustrated, I pushed out the door and into the sun, making my way to the Bulldog Café on campus where I met my best friend, Macie, for lunch every other day. This time of day was fairly quiet, because it wasn’t quite lunchtime, and most classes were still going on. I went through the line, getting a small personal pizza and a soda before grabbing a table to wait for Macie. No sooner had I sat down than she came around the corner with a tray and a pissed off glare that told me I was about to get an earful.